A landscape painting by Judith Reeve
There is this longing that I become conscious of  in the spring. It is a restlessness that overtakes me and seizes hold of me. Although longing seizes everyone at some point, deep felt longing is an attribute of the artist. It is what drives the creative passion. It is an energy that seeks release and sets the artist on a journey. It is the sole motivation for the journey. I once had an sculptor ask me “why do you paint?” All I could really say truthfully is that I am compelled to. And he said, “that is enough”. “That is enough”, says it all. One needs no other reason. And the compulsion really gets at the heart of the matter. St. Augustine in his Confessions states,” …my heart is restless until it rests in Thee.” The artist remains restless until he finds that place beyond himself.

This sense of longing cannot be resisted. It is like the Greek belief in destiny. The heroes of the great myths cannot help themselves. Even if they make an attempt to change the course they are on, destiny still catches up to them.  This understanding of one’s self, an inner elan, allows the journey to unfold. Compulsion to act becomes the key to the creative life. It is like the breaking up of the ice in spring. Once broken, the river can flow again.

Compulsion is built on two characteristics: an intense emotion and desire in the longing and an intuitive awareness of the connection between things.  This acute sensitivity to things in the world, through the emotions as well as through intuition, allows the artist to support the imagination as well as generate images that speak. Compulsion allows hidden forms to manifest.

Skill becomes a secondary aspect. It becomes the language necessary to convey the deep emotions  residing within. Compulsion combined with craft allows this inner life to find form and recognition.  This dual aspect creates an isthmus to images. Skill gives the artist the ability to bring back that image from the other world.

Compulsion is the beginning of transformation. It starts us on the necessary quest. We begin. We traverse many landscapes. At our journeys end, we find that what we were after has been within our grasp all along. When we finally seize the image, it is as though we were looking in a mirror at ourselves and the world. But we could not see it or grasp its significance without the quest. Only the quest allowed us to see what was before us, hidden.

Compulsion is the isthmus between two worlds.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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